Shropshire GP surgeries being paid millions for ‘ghost’ patients
GP surgeries in Shropshire are receiving payments for thousands of patients who do not exist, according to NHS figures.
Around eight per cent of patients on lists held by surgeries have either died or moved away.
But they are still being funded by the NHS, to the tune of £132.78 per registered patient in the 2017-18 financial year.
Figures have been released for Telford & Wrekin, where there are 10,000 ‘ghost’ patients, but the trend is believed to continue across the county.
The NHS Counter Fraud Authority has launched a national probe into the issue.
The latest Office for National Statistics data shows an estimated 175,800 people live in the NHS Telford & Wrekin CCG area, but around 190,400 patients were registered with GP surgeries at the start of June.
This means around 14,600, or eight per cent, could be ghost patients.
The ONS estimate was published in 2017, so some of the disparity could be down to changes in the local population.
But it is extremely unlikely that this accounts for all the excess patients, as the average yearly population growth for the area was just 0.9 per cent between 2012 and 2017.
The figures suggest GP surgeries in Telford & Wrekin alone could currently be receiving around £1.9 million for ghost patients each year, with a similar figure across Shropshire.
The NHS Counter Fraud Authority estimates that up to £88 million was incorrectly claimed by GPs across England in the 2017-18 financial year.
A spokesman said: “Our priority this year will be to assess whether these discrepancies remain, and if they do, conduct further analysis to establish their nature and whether part of this is due to fraudulent activity or not.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said she was “shocked” at the insinuation of wrongdoing, which she described as “incredibly hurtful for hard-working GPs” in Shropshire and their teams, "who are struggling to deliver care to more than one million patients a day across the country, with insufficient time, resources or workforce to do so.”
She said it was important to make sure patient lists are kept up to date, adding that “so-called ghost patients” are nothing sinister, but the result of a “records management issue”.
A spokesperson for Telford & Wrekin CCG said: “The issue of ghost patients is a national one as highlighted by recent media coverage.
“General practices are supported to maintain their registrations by Primary Care Support England and this is an ongoing process.
“There can be a number of reasons why people not registered as living within Telford & Wrekin could be registered as patients with a Telford & Wrekin practice. These include people who have moved away without informing their practice, those who live outside the local authority border, students and homeless people.”